Today we finally got to meet the girls who are the reason behind all that we do. The safe house was not at all how I pictured it, it was far better. We were warmly greeted with laughter and handmade leis and given a full tour of the 4-story building that included the girls’ living area, classroom, workroom, shop, garden, the organization’s offices, etc. The building was beautiful and very well kept by the girls.
While we were looking at the office, they explained the entire structure of their work to us. The organization has a very strong and impressive setup. They operate seven border units; near each unit is a transit home. Rescued girls are able to stay in the transit homes before either going back to their homes or entering the safe house. The East/West Highway that runs the length of Nepal is 1026 km long. Of that 1026 km, the stations cover 626 km, leaving 400 more kilometers to cover with 5 more border patrol units in the future. Each unit has been rescuing from 150-200 girls a month, which is about 4-5 girls a day, depending on the location and the season. They currently only have one safe house but two new safe houses will be opening this year to increase the number of girls that can be housed. Each safe house can rehabilitate and train 20 girls at a time. So, with the two new establishments, 60 at a time can be helped. Their future goal is to have 5 safe houses across the country so that each region can send rescued girls a shorter distance to reduce the hassle of them all having to travel so far from various places. In addition to the safe houses and border units, our partner organization also raises awareness through radio station jingles, street dramas, literacy training, and door-to-door groups. Our partner explained the program for the safe house and showed us the functional literacy books used to teach the girls that are based on lessons in managing money, raising families, self care, and other useful topics. Almost all of the girls who leave the safe house return to their families and are able to offer their new seamstress skills that can help transform their whole village. We looked through the records of all the rescued girls. It was fascinating to see what excuses the traffickers had fed the girls and to see what relation the girls claimed they were to the traffickers. There were many different stories and there were also many trends in the stories told. They had page after page of records of the claims the girls made to get across the border to the fate that awaited them in India.
We spotted the girls’ handicrafts throughout the house. These are the same items that we sell at the booths we set up in the U.S. Yet, here they were, half a world away, being handmade by girls close to our age.
After the tour, I presented the girls with the scrapbook I made that had various pictures of the Red Thread Movement in it. It included pictures from events and a picture of each of the supporting bands and other photos of people wearing the bracelets. When we showed the book to the house mother first, she was initially shocked and then incredibly excited to see the bracelets on people’s arms and asked if these were really their bracelets. The girls sat through the first flip-through watching quietly but went back through it again discussing each of the pictures. D translated some of their commentary and it was funny to hear what they thought of some of the pictures. They spent a good while comparing some of the band guys to their favorite Indian actors in the shows they watch. They also went through and pointed out every picture that we were in, excited to recognize someone they know. We taught them what Red Thread Movement was and they all learned how to say it in English.
They prepared us a genuine Nepali lunch that we felt the need to eat Nepal-style (with our hands). The girls had a lesson on the roof and then finished early so we could visit with them. With the help of D’s translation, we taught them how to play UNO and they understood the rules rather well. There were quite a few cheaters, but most of the cheating was a comical misunderstanding. We learned four new colors in Nepali and there was quite a bit of laughter every time we messed them up. Afterwards, we painted their nails and they painted ours as well. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were saying but I’m pretty sure they made fun of how different purple nails looked on someone as white as me. The color did look much richer against their beautiful dark skin. I gave them some playdough also and was molding a snake out of it and they, trying to guess what it was, said “it’s a bird, no it’s a plane…”.
We asked them how long it took to make one bracelet and one of the more experienced artisans, who was working on making one as we spoke to her, said an hour. The other girls jokingly poked fun at one girl saying it took her a whole month to make a bracelet. It was so wonderful to see them laughing and joking, just as we do. They are so full of life and hope; I was so thankful for the joy they have found. The girls are so genuine in their affections as they interact with us.
I can only imagine the feeling of utter betrayal you would feel after being trafficked by someone who had been close to you and the distrust that would generate. Given everything these girls have been through, I found it amazing that they had such a huge capacity for love and affection towards strangers. Their hearts were not hardened towards love but instead they loved each other deeply and warmly welcomed us into their lives. They are hard workers and are eager to finish projects and learn new skills. They are trained to become leaders and they all step into the role so beautifully. Even though the thought of leaving the safe house saddens them, they understand that they have a new responsibility to go back to their communities and help other girls so that their villages can be transformed and lives can be saved with the new hope they bring with them. The girls were absolutely inspiring. It was a complete blessing to spend today with them; I only wish there was more time.
We are now back at the hotel trying to get a good night’s sleep before another day of travel. Our bathroom is flooded, our electricity is pretty finicky, and the three of us are sharing a bed, but we finally got our heater to switch on so we feel extremely content. God has blessed us greatly on this trip and I know that much more lies ahead!